The Civil War Exile of the Roswell Mill WomenMay 3, 2020
You all have probably heard of the Trail of Tears, when the Cherokee Indians were sent from North Carolina and Georgia to Oklahoma by force in the 1800’s.
You may also know, especially if you are from the South, of the great devastation and death caused by the Civil War, and how people’s homes were burned or they were forced out of them so that they could be occupied by the Union army.
But very few people know the story of another forced exile and a different kind of devastation caused by the Civil War in Roswell, Georgia and the former town of New Manchester.
In 1864, at least 400 and possibly as many as 700 mill workers, nearly all women, black and white and their children, were arrested as traitors and shipped North by force, and very few of them ever made their way back home. Those husbands and sons who made it through the war returned home to Roswell to find their families gone, and no way of knowing where.
It was July, and the Atlanta Campaign was in full swing, General Sherman burning and slashing his way to Atlanta and his March to the Sea. Seeking a way to cross the Chattahoochee, General Kenner Garrard began his twelve-day occupation of Roswell, which was completely undefended. Everyone except the mill-workers had fled the city. The mills, two cotton mills and a woolen mill, remained in operation, making cloth for uniforms and other military needs, like rope and canvas.
The day after Garrard arrived, he sent a message to Sherman that he had discovered the mills and was in the process of destroying them. Sherman messaged back that the destruction of the mills met his “entire approval.” He then added,
“I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, whence I will send them by [railroad] cars, to the North. THE POOR WOMEN WILL MAKE A HOWL…Let them [the women] take along their children and clothing, providing they have a means of hauling or you can spare them.”
Then, a day later, he added, “Whenever the people are in the way, ship them to a new country north and west.”
The women and a few men who were too old or too young too fight and all the children were rounded up and marched, under guard, the ten or so miles to Marietta and brought to the abandoned Georgia Military Institute. Along the way, Garrard added more people who seemed to be “in the way.”
General George H. Thomas wrote to Gen. Sherman, “The Roswell factory hands, 400 or 500 hundred in number, have arrived in Marietta. The most of them are women. I can only order them transportation to Nashville where it seems hard to turn them adrift. What had best be done with them?”
Sherman replied, “I have ordered General Webster at Nashville to dispose of them. They will be sent to Indiana.”
There was another factory in the town of New Manchester on Sweet Water Creek due west of Atlanta where the women were also transported. But that city was burned to the ground and never rebuilt, so the women never returned and their fates have been lost.
From Marietta, they were loaded into boxcars, given several days’ rations, and taken, not knowing where they were going or what their fate was to be, to Louisville, Kentucky, where many were unloaded, while some others were taken across the Ohio River into Indiana.
One woman who worked in the Roswell Mill was transported along with her mother and her grandmother, who were also mill workers. On the journey, her mother and her grandmother both died. The grandmother had been so feeble that she had been transported aboard the steamship to be shipped across the Ohio in a rocking chair.
In the beginning, the women in Kentucky were fed and housed by a Louisville refugee hospital, but then they were left to find living quarters and employment on their own. The ones in Indiana struggled from the beginning, taking whatever work they could find. They were uneducated and knew nothing but mill work, and most who survived eventually found employment in the Kentucky and Indiana mills. There was very little possibility that they would get home, and most were illiterate and could not write to anyone to let them know where they were.
These women were “the enemy,” and, especially in Indiana, the towns along the river were overrun. Many of the women died from disease, which reached epidemic proportions, and others of starvation or exposure.
Eventually, not knowing if their husbands were alive or dead, many of the women who survived remarried in the North. In the South, men came home from the war to find their wives and families missing, and presumed them dead, and remarried.
Some few of the women did make it back. One such case was that of Adeline Bagley Buice.. She had been pregnant when she was shipped away, and it took her five years to get back to Roswell with her daughter, only to discover that her husband had given her up for dead and remarried.
It was not until 1998 that the Roswell Mills Camp No. 1547, Sons of the Confederate Veterans,began a project to try to identify the victims and locate their descendants. Intensive advertising and research led to many of the descendants being located, mostly in the North, and most of the mill workers were identified. In 2000, the city of Roswell erected a monument to the women who were exiled from there.
How does one justify making war on women and children? How does one ever justify it?
“War is Hell,” Sherman said.
“The women of the south kept the war alive–and it is only by making them suffer that we can subdue the men,” said Jeremiah Jenkins, a Union Lt. Colonel.
The sad thing is that the howl of the women, loud as it much have been, resounded for so short of time through the years. How can a lesson be learned, if the stories are not told?